Anti-Catholic Protests in Russia Fail to Draw Big Crowds

Few Join Demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg

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MOSCOW, APRIL 29, 2002 ( Protests organized Sunday in Russia against the Catholic Church attracted relatively few participants, ZENIT and other news agencies found.

The most important meeting, an initiative of the People´s Deputies Party and Union of Orthodox Citizens, was to take place in Moscow, where only several hundred gathered to protest the «Catholic expansion.»

The demonstration was held in front of the monument to Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Carrying icons and postcards, the protesters criticized the «Vatican´s intrusion in Orthodox lands.» One of the posters warned against the arrival of «pederasts.»

The organizers of the event published a statement in which they criticized the Holy See´s decision to create four dioceses in Russia.

When announcing John Paul II´s decision to create the dioceses, the Vatican published a statement in which it recognized the right of Catholics in Russia to count on the pastoral service of their pastors, and the duty of every Christian to proclaim the Gospel. The statement denied that the decision was an attempt to proselytize against the Orthodox Church.

At John Paul II´s request, institutions of the Catholic Church have been contributing to the maintenance of priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet recently, Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur of the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, and an Italian priest, Father Stefano Caprio, were expelled from Russia without any explanations by the authorities.

Protests on Sunday were organized in some 20 Russian cities. An Agence France-Presse correspondent counted about 50 protesters in St. Petersburg, who called for the reinforcement of traditional religions in Russia, which they identified as Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.

Signatures were also collected throughout Russia, in protest against the Catholic presence. The signatures will be sent to the Vatican´s apostolic nuncio in Moscow.

In statements to Interfax agency, Guennadi Raikov, one of the organizers and leader of the People´s Deputies Party, acknowledged today that out of a total Russian population of 144 million, 70% of whom are Orthodox, only 50,000 protest signatures were collected against the Catholic Church.

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